The market for video services can be as stratified as the market for photography services. There are people offering wedding videos and there are big, polished teams offering very high end television commercial productions; and there are a lot of producers offering services somewhere in between.
In one sense the market for successful video production companies still has some barriers to entry while the barriers to an effective photography business have become much less daunting. The difference is not so much defined by one's ability to afford expensive gear but by one having the time to pursue a steeper and more diverse (light, sound, direction, editing, etc.) learning curve; and by having the ability to dedicate large chunks of schedule to projects with finite deadlines.
While one might pursue a part time career as a portrait or wedding photographer by working just on the weekends, while maintaining a regular, forty hour per week job, it's a different scenario for someone who wants to provide commercial video services to companies, associations and corporate enterprises. To do this kind of work you need to be available during regular work days; not just on weekends. All of your meetings and most of your actual time in production will need to occur during Monday-Friday, during traditional 9-5 work hours. A project with two shooting days generally requires at least a day of pre-production and two or three days of editing after the video capture. And experience tells us that during every part of the project clients expect timely communications throughout.
Smaller companies with very modest expectations (and budgets) might not expect you to show up with current top of the line models of cameras, lenses, microphones, etc. but as you climb the ladders of the industries you target you'll be working with many full time, in-house producers who will understand the benefits of different tiers of equipment. My philosophy is that as long as the gear you use isn't a limiting factor in a given production you can use whatever you want but when you know you need better ( or more ) you'll need to bite bullets and rent or acquire. And you'll need to know where those lines are...
I'm sitting down today to get a grip on just what I'm offering clients in the way of video services. I'm doing this exercise to clarify, in my own mind, what works, and to predict, as well as I can, what I'm likely to be offering over the next twelve months. As I do this exercise I am coming to (re)understand that there is a wide range of physical tools with which most of us can successfully work but there are definitely required "soft" tools that are the underpinnings of a successful, small video production business.
Those soft tools include an understanding of the construction of a successful storytelling video narrative. How do we tell the story from start to finish? That understanding leads to the need to be organized and to get all the pieces (scenes, clips) one needs to construct a project. From good interviews to good b-roll. From good, clean audio to logical, visually pleasant editing. These are skills. Skills come from understanding concepts (how stuff works) and are honed by hours and hours of practice. These are things you can't buy in a box and bring to a shoot in a Pelican case. They either come packed in your brain or not at all.
As an example: In the past week and a half I noticed that I was hesitant about using my wireless microphones on busy jobs, preferring to either use a wired, boomed hyper-cardioid microphone or a wired cardioid microphone. When it came right down to it I hadn't used the wireless gear in a while and have always been a bit hazy on the exact operation of my Sennheiser EW100 G3 system. I've gotten away with my workarounds but the avoidance of mastering and using a valuable and useful tool really bugged me so I set aside all of yesterday morning to go through every parameter of setting up the system, syncing the transmitter and receiver, setting levels, running the resulting signal into my cameras and also placing the lavaliere microphones just so on clothes to make them sound good and to prevent noise from clothing rustle.
I watched several videos that focused entirely on setting up and using the system. I unplugged everything and reset both the transmitter and receiver and then went through the whole process of putting it back together, syncing and getting everything ready to record. I mic'd myself and recorded material over and over again at different levels to make sure I understood how to set "sensitivity" in the transmitter and how to set the corresponding controls in the receiver.
I feel so much more confident with the system today. I'll go through the same self-training at least two more times before I use the wireless system again on a paying job next week.
The same practice of concept+skills applies to moving the camera. To choosing the right file settings for the video files. It's a combination of comprehending the underlying concepts and then practicing the implementation of those concepts at every step.
I also evaluated the broader skills ( or limitations) that I've always had. I'm uncomfortable with large crews (probably why I became a photographer in the first place) and I'm impatient with the effort it takes to get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction. But I'm good with lighting and good at explaining what I'm setting out to do with clients. I'm good at directing interviews and I'm good with client engagement.
All these things shape what I want to offer clients. And I intuit that trying to do the business the way someone else might do the video business is probably not going to work as well for me.
What do I want to offer my clients?
The optimum project would be one that requires lots of beautifully lit, engaging interviews coupled with great alternative scenes and clips (and still images) that create visually compelling b-roll. I love getting onto factory floors and showing process and workflow. I love getting shots of people moving through the spaces as they work. I love getting closeup details and getting footage from a point of view that's different. But most of all I want to translate an interviewee's authentic story into a perfect clip.
Here's what a perfect laundry list of my discrete services would look like:
- lighting, shooting and directing interviews.
- lighting, shooting and directing work processes in real world situations.
- creating and blending still images into the video storytelling timeline.
-creating good quality sound at every step.
-Help write scripts that feel comfortable say out loud, and to direct.
-Lead a small and agile crew that travels light and moves quickly.
It would be great to offer video services that are accessible, both financially and in terms of time efficiency. This means providing the right set of camera resources with which to do the jobs we work on but not straying too far from the camera handling characteristics I'm used to. Camera handling should be second nature when on the job.
The clients we want are corporations or organizations that need good, efficient interviews and resulting short videos that explain the client's unique position within their industry. To get across a message that's important to our client's success.
The most enjoyable projects are the ones in which we interview one or two primary subjects who tell their stories. Their interviews provide a narrative backbone on which to build the video. We might use 3 or 4 minutes of a person's video story (their audio tracks) but only see the person on screen for a half or a third of the time. The rest of the visual imagery needs to be "eye candy" ( intentional b-roll) that directly relates to what's being said in the interviews.
If the subject talks about a love of the outdoors then we'll shoot b-roll of him walking through the woods or fishing in a stream. If the subject talks about the radical advances in his industry wrought by a new device or process then it's imperative that we show the device or the process. And show the final product and how it affects a customer's life...
The best way for me to deliver value to clients is to immerse myself in understanding what the client needs to say with the video in order to move their game forward.
The best clients involve me in their project early enough so I can help them mould the story in a way that makes it possible to produce within their time frame and their budget.
At the very end of the process it's wonderful to deliver a video that tells a compelling story which changes opinions, helps to market a worthy product, motivates change and makes our client look brilliant. It's a lot to aim for and that, in itself, might be the biggest barrier to entry in the business.
What am I not going to pursue next year?
I'm not looking for big, blockbuster projects that require lots of special effects, tricky compositing or vast legions of crew. Projects are like vacations to me; they should be fun, simple and over in two or three weeks. Nothing numbs creativity like projects that drag on forever. They are like graceless subroutines in one's mind, taking up space and attention from everything else.
We're not looking for projects that require endless BaseCamp e-mail chains before, after or during production. And that probably means we won't be competing for the big budget work that comes from larger ad agencies.
And we're certainly not signing up to do a low budget copy cat production of something someone's VP saw in a TV commercial.
The goal of every project is to enhance a client's ability to communicate, with video, in markets that never existed before. It's tough to afford a Super Bowl TV commercial but it's easy to leverage the internet. And that's where opportunity still seems endless. As long as you have some good video to share...